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Understanding Micro-interaction in User Experience

Alekh Verma | February 8, 2023
Micro-Interactions

A superb app can be distinguished from a mediocre one by its excellent design. Having an interactive and robust interface allows you to provide a good experience to your users. Micro-interaction is something more that helps you on your path to curating positive user experiences. Unknowingly, every day we all engage in online interactions with micro-interactions. They improve comprehension of the app's present operations and offer crucial feedback information, enhancing the interface's overall interactivity. In this article, we’re going to explore in detail how micro-interactions work in improving user experience.

What Are Micro-interactions?

In simple terms, micro-interactions are the features added to your apps or website to make the user interaction more fluid. These are the brief interactions added in the design such as interesting animation popping up on the screen once you hit a button or getting notification after you turn on a feature. These little tweaks to the interface make all the difference and set your app or website apart.

At the most basic level, micro-interactions work as a link between the UX and UI of an app or website. There’s a common misconception that people believe that these two are the same but there’s a huge difference between UI and UX. UI stands for user interface, which indicates how your software layout looks. One can design the layout with interactive features, animation, and other visual components. User experience, on the other hand, indicates how a user interacts with the UI and how they get influenced by that interaction. The main ambition of any software developer is to build and embellish an AI in a manner that enhances the user experience. Micro-interaction is one such embellishment that one can use to enhance UX.

Now, let’s explore some micro-interactions parts in detail-

  • Triggers

A trigger is something that starts an interaction. There are two ways for a trigger to commence- one is initiated by a user and the other by the system. When the user acts it initiates the user-generated trigger. On the other hand, a system-generated trigger is activated when a certain action of a user meets specific criteria set in the software.

  • Rules

There are certain rules set up that determine what happens next once a trigger is initiated. For instance, if you want to turn a flashlight on and off then there’s a button in the flashlight application that works as the trigger. The rule determines that clicking on the button would turn the flashlight on and off.

  • Feedback

Anything that a user experiences, whether it’s seeing, hearing, or feeling, during a micro-interaction is considered feedback in this context. The feedback informs the user of what’s taking place on their screen.

  • Loops and Models

Loops and models are essential tools when it comes to user satisfaction as they determine the meta-rules governing the micro-interactions. The question here is what happens to micro-interaction when certain circumstances change. For example, if you click on a button to buy something that you’ve previously purchased then the “Buy Now” button automatically changes to “Buy Another” to remind the user of their earlier purchase.

Why Are Micro-interactions an Essential Part of User Experience

Although micro-interactions are an essential part of the UX, a lot of web designers still overlook the many advantages that it provides. You might wonder whether it’s possible to design a good UI without micro-interactions. The answer is No. You might be able to create a UI without the micro-interactions but it would not be convenient for the users, which directly affects the user experience.

Here are some reasons supporting our argument that shows how important part micro-interactions play in designing a good user experience.

1.  They give the user a feeling of control.

The main objective of micro-interactions is to keep the user informed of all the events. With micro-interactions, you tell the user what’s going to happen when they perform a certain action. For instance, what would happen when they clicked on a button? Is this going to redirect them to a page? Have they deleted anything? Have they made a purchase?

Simply put, you preempt any questions that the user is going to have and answer them with the help of micro-interactions. Adding some micro-movements to the functional elements of UI conveys a feeling of consideration toward the user. By showing that every action that the user takes has a specific purpose and a result, it creates an impression that they are in charge.

2.  Increases Brand Recognition

Some logos are so exclusively connected to a specific app or website that it’s hard to imagine them in a different context. As a result of that, your brand becomes distinctive because whenever a user comes across that logo anywhere, they immediately associate it with your brand. Which harbors curiosity in people.

One of the best examples of this is Facebook’s website and mobile application. When Facebook was first launched, it introduced the ‘like-button’ which has become synonymous with the brand itself. Adding this micro-interaction significantly affected how people perceived their product. They have continued to add more micro-interactions such as GIFs or emojis over the years but the like button still plays the role of their primary branding tool.  

3.  Amplifies User Experience

Micro-interaction is a great tool when it comes to influencing user experiences. Any software product has two main components i.e., features and details. Features work as the initial attraction that entices the user to use your website or app. However, it’s the details that you’ve put in your software that make them want to return. Thus, micro-interactions work as the necessary component that gives the extra visual appeal to your website or app and amplifies the user experience as a whole.

4.  Easy Navigation

Micro-interaction plays a vital role in improving the usability of a website or mobile app. When a user is aware of the state of the process that a certain action has triggered or what their next step should be, it is directly going to affect the user's experience in a positive manner. And a happy user is more likely to keep using your app or website.

When To Use Micro-interaction

Every business uses micro-interactions in different ways. Everyone wants the result to be the same I.e., enhanced user experience, however, what path you take to get there depends entirely on your business needs. Here are some common scenarios where using micro-interactions can be beneficial for your business-

  • Data Input

Data entry is an essential part of most websites or mobile applications. You often need to ask users for partaking in activities such as logging in, signing up, shipping details, etc., where they need to input certain data into the system, which can be a cause of frustration for them.

Let’s take an example where a user is required to input certain data when they want to set up a new account. Here they are required to set up a password to proceed further. Now, take an instance where once the user has clicked on the submit button, a message appears on the screen that states their password didn’t meet a certain criterion. This can frustrate a user and they might end up leaving your site or app altogether. Now, this unpleasant experience can be avoided with the help of micro-interactions. You can make use of inline validation to help the user correct their information on the first go which would most definitely aid in a better user experience.

  • Support Undo

We simply cannot expect users to make the right choice on the first go. People are often going to change their minds about a product, or a service and they have every right to do so. However, if as a brand you support their choices and give them an option to change their mind then it’s likely to enhance their overall experience. If you inform the user how many times, they can cancel a request or how they can undo a subscription then they’re not going to feel under pressure which is likely to increase customer retention rates.

We can take the example of social media platforms that have the like button in place. However, they also give you the option to undo your action in case you ever change your mind. All you have to do is click on the opposite icon. The same goes for YouTube’s subscribe button. When you click on the ‘subscribe’ button a bell icon appears right next to it. However, you have the option to ‘unsubscribe’ by just clicking again on the same button, and then the bell icon disappears. This is a great example to show users the result of their actions and at the same time give them the option to undo it if they wish.

  • Standby

Sometimes it takes multiple steps to complete a single task, and this is where you can use micro-interactions to keep the user informed. Once the initial action has been triggered, you can use micro-interaction to inform the user that the product is in standby mode and waiting for more inputs. Doing so entices the user to perform the required action and keep using the product.

To understand further we can take an example of Grammarly. Here, whenever there are any errors in the user’s document, Grammarly indicates that with a red underline under the incorrect word. This prompts the reader to click on the word which triggers a popup that allows the user to make necessary changes.

  • Loading

If you have a website or application that takes a little longer to load, then you can use micro-interaction to enhance the user experience even while they’re waiting for the page to load. People do not like to wait for things and that wait becomes even longer if they don’t understand when it’s going to come to an end. If your page takes too much time to load and you do not inform users of the same, then they are likely to cancel or backtrack thinking there’s something wrong with the system. Thus, always keep the users informed about their progress in real-time.

You can do this by using an amusing animation that shows that the page is loading. The animation can also change color from red to green once the loading is complete.

  • Call to Action (CTA)

You can use CTA objectives as micro-interactions to prompt the user to act. People are more likely to click on something if they can clearly see what their actions are going to lead to. This is a good marketing strategy if you want to redirect the audience to a new page or increase views on some video or article. Simple micro-interactions such as “Sign in to make a purchase” or “Read the article to buy” are the perfect example of this.

  • Error Prevention

You can use micro-interactions to inform the users of error-prone situations and what certain actions could lead to. This can work as a verifying action where the user double-checks before performing risky actions. The warning popup before a risky software installation is the perfect example of this. Here, this warning popup gives the user information about the potential consequences of installing software that might end up damaging their device’s operating system.

Tips on How to Design Micro-interaction

Designing micro-interactions is quite an interesting task and there’s no limit to your creativity. However, make sure you don’t get too carried away and add too many animations which would end up annoying the users. Make sure your micro-interactions serve a purpose and add to your existing website or app.

Here are some tips that you can follow while designing micro-interactions for your website or app-

1.  Micro-interaction shouldn’t hinder navigation.

If your website requires the user to act frequently then too many interactive animations or buttons could end up slowing them down and might serve as a nuisance instead of a helping hand; the purpose of a micro-interaction is to make the user’s life easier, not complicate it further.

If an extravagant animation stopped the user from scrolling down every time, they liked something, they’ll likely get tired easily and may end up abandoning the site or app. You could end up hurting your brand image and the UX. Thus, make sure that you aren’t hindering user navigation while implementing animations or any other micro-interactions.

2.  Useful design animations.

Make sure the animations you’re designing for your website or mobile app serve a purpose and not just for entertainment’s sake. When it comes to web designing, animations are often disregarded but they are essential to your design and can be a great tool when you want to increase your site’s usability through user feedback.

For example, when you’re designing a button hover state, make sure to keep its functionality in mind such as what would serve as the transition between those states, the type of easing, or what length it’s going to be.

3.  Don’t forget to have fun with designing.

If your product and brand guidelines permit then you can try to have fun with the micro-interactions design, all within certain limits of course. These additional designs in your app or website are what sets you apart from the hundreds of boring products in the market, so make sure you create something that’s not only going to increase usability, but also amuse the users.

One great example of this could be adding a humorous illustration or animation whenever a user refreshes the page or adding quirky emoticons to your confirmation notifications.

4.  Use language that’s understandable by all.

Using unnecessarily difficult language or complicated jargon is not going to serve in the favor of your business. The main intention of micro-interactions is to increase usability, however, making the interactions too complicated will only end up confusing the user, which might hurt your brand image and UX.

Micro-interaction Examples

1.  Speedometer

When it comes to micro-interactions SpeedTest is the perfect example of its use case. SpeedTest is a crucial tool that helps people discover their internet speed. Now, when it comes to determining the internet speed the tool can take several seconds or minutes depending on your data and internet connection, thus, it becomes essential that the user be informed of the ongoing progress, or they might think the tool is not working and abandon the site altogether. Giving the user an indicator of their progress keeps them calm and informed, which works in favor of UX and builds brand image.

As you can see in the image below, SpeedTest uses two lines that appear on the top of your device’s screen as a progress bar that informs you of the real-time progress of your request.  

Speedometer

2.  Google

Although one might not be able to notice the changes that have happened to Google’s website design and branding, there have been slow and consistent changes going on over the years. Google as a brand keeps making minor changes to its micro-interactions gradually to not take the audience off-guard, but there have been enough notable changes.

One such change that tops our list is the inclusion of suggested searches on their search page. You might’ve noticed that Google suggests several options to choose from wherever you type different words in the search bar, which makes it easier to find content. When you engage with this micro-interaction, it helps you to gain insight into what other people have been searching for and save a lot of your time that you might’ve spent looking for things on your own.

3.  Pull to Refresh

It has been a common practice that whenever a page is taking too much time to load people tend to pull it down to refresh the page. Doing so generally improves their status and loads the page faster. However, people often lost the content that was on their page once it’s been refreshed, which agitated people and wasted a lot more time having to fill in the information again or finding their place on the page.

Over time most websites have found a solution to this common problem. Now, websites use micro-interaction tools such as animations to amuse people while they wait. Earlier whenever the user refreshed a page, it used to leave the screen blank which made the wait seem even longer. Now, most businesses have quirky or calming animations that appear on the screen while people wait which calms their minds. Also, after refreshing the page you would most likely be taken to your previous position.

4.  Uploading and Downloading

Whenever you’re downloading any data from a website or uploading any data, there are a lot of factors such as internet speed, website, or file size, that affect how long the process is going to take. If the wait is too long, then it can annoy the customer if they do not even know how long it’s going to take. Thus, it’s always a safer bet to keep the user informed of the real-time status of their download or upload.

Here, micro-interactions can come in handy. A lot of websites over time started using a progress bar to show the user how many of their requests are processed. Keep the user informed if there’s any problem with their request, how much longer it’s going to take, and the competition status once it’s processed. Doing so helps the customer stay calm and increases your UX. Also, you don’t have to necessarily use the dull template for the progress bar. You can show your creativity here and design the progress bar in a fun way or customize it as per your website’s theme and style.

5.  Add to cart

With the ever-growing competition in the digital marketing world, you must think outside the box and create something extraordinary if you want to stand apart from your competitors. Your website needs to have that extra spark if you want visitors to stay and become lifelong customers. If you’re running an eCommerce website, then you have the option to interact with customers while they’re making a purchase.

Now, a lot of online stores offer a special shopping experience to their customers where they offer wish lists, showcase different price ranges, and display purchase details. Customers have the option to add their items to a cart and purchase it later on. However, how this experience becomes special is that online stores now display numbers on the shopping cart icon to indicate how many items exist in the cart. This simplifies users' life as they don’t have to quit their current page, to see the number of items in their cart.

6.  Social Share

Social media platforms are some of the best examples when it comes to micro-interactions. Various social share platforms such as Facebook and Instagram allow users to share a variety of content and allows them to interact with other users. These platforms have revolutionized the use of emoticons to react to things and show emotions. These emoticons can range from a thumbs up to a heart shape to show you’ve liked something. There are also other emoticons such as crying, laughing, smiling, etc.

In fact, Facebook was the first social media platform to have incorporated the like features, and over time the like button (a thumbs up sign) has become synonymous with Facebook’s brand image. Now, if you come across the like button anywhere, you immediately think of Facebook.

7.  Submit Button

There are a lot of websites that require a user to fill in forms before moving forward. While filling these forms one has to be sure before hitting the submit button because if they’ve filled in any information that does not meet the criteria of the form then the user ends up losing all the data and has to renew the process once again.

However, there is a solution to this that a lot of online forms have incorporated; you can simply use a micro-interaction tool here to help the user understand what information they need to re-write before submitting the form. Now, the submit button is at the end of the form, so if the user makes any mistake while filling in the information then a red colored star sign appears right next to the information tab, indicating that the user needs to check it before moving forward. This allows the user to rectify all mistakes before hitting the submit button which saves a lot of their time.

Conclusion

There’s no limit to the number of micro-interactions you add to your website or app to make it user-friendly. However, as we’ve already discussed above, you have to be mindful of the fact that these micro-interactions do not pose any threat to the navigation and usability of your site or app. Make sure whatever element you’re adding to your site serves a purpose and makes the user’s life easier.

Keep yourself in your user’s shoes and understand what are the things that you could simplify for them. Test all your micro-interaction elements before making them public. And ask for reviews to see how people are reacting to the added element.

Above all else, make sure to use your creativity here and have fun with the process of creating out-of-the-box micro-interactions.

Alekh Verma

CEO and Founder at eSearch Logix Technologies!

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